August 17, 2016

MEDIA COMMENT: Conflicts of interest

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:19 pm by yisraelmedad

Media Comment: Conflicts of interest
Why then does Israel allow the Toto and Mifal Hapayis to operate?
Two inter-related topics have been on our media agenda during the past two weeks. One is the attempt by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) to curtail the activities of Israel’s two public gambling institutions, Mifal Hapayis, owned by Israel’s municipalities, and the Toto, which runs sports betting. The second is the media coverage of the Olympics. Both create a serious conflict of interest for the media and both have an international flavor.

The Jewish attitude toward gambling is negative.

The Talmud notes that the testimony of someone who gambles with dice is not acceptable in court. Gambling has destroyed families and people. It is addictive. Large gambling losses have even led to murder. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has more than once tried to introduce legal casino gambling to Israel, claiming that it would bring with it huge profits for the tourism industry and especially Eilat, but was overruled even by his own party members.

Why then does Israel allow the Toto and Mifal Hapayis to operate? Some claim that gambling is simply an unsurmountable human weakness, and that if the country were to forbid gambling completely it would continue illegally and be dominated by criminal elements. Better to have government gambling operations which are limited in scope and regulated.

Both Mifal Hapayis and the Toto are public corporations. Mifal Hapayis pours its profits into the coffers of the municipal governments which use it to build classes, public centers and fund a variety of public interest activities. The Toto, run by the Council for Organization of Sports Gambling, with representatives of the Israel Olympic Committee (IOC) on its board, uses its profits to enhance sports activities in Israel, supporting sports clubs, sports education and Israel’s Olympic efforts. Both organizations are considered to be relatively clean by the media. Bribing of athletes is relatively rare and the known number of cases is small.

Yet, when one thinks of it, the media’s relationship to these organizations puts it in a serious conflict of interest. The Payis spends almost NIS 100 million per year on advertisements, making it one of the biggest supporters of the Israeli media. The Toto (whose yearly income of NIS 2.6 billion, compared to that of the Payis at NIS 6.5b.) spends NIS 30m. directly on advertising and much more indirectly through its support of the Israel Premier League’s monopoly on broadcasting its games.

Given these huge sums, it is clear that media outlets which carry advertising of the two organizations would be very hesitant to criticize them. Our three central TV channels were very supportive of the “cottage cheese” social upheaval of 2011. They consistently clamor that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Yet, the Payis and the Toto do the same. Their combined NIS 10b. annual income is equivalent to an annual tax of NIS 5000 per Israeli household, if it were equally distributed. It is not. The rich hardly pay it at all; the poor pay most of it. Imagine the brouhaha the media would raise if Netanyahu were to suggest such a skewed taxation.

But the Payis and the Toto are not taken to task – at least not until Finance Minister Kahlon put his foot down. All he did was limit the operations of the Payis and stop its setting up of slot machines all over the country.

The reaction of the municipalities was a strike threat, and the media played along beautifully, giving the threatening mayors ample opportunity to “explain” why their threats are justified. This paid off for them: the Finance Ministry agreed to cover most of the “losses” incurred because of the curtailing of the Payis.

The media silence is deafening. When a doctor manages to top the income list of government officials, reaching NIS 1m. per year, the media goes berserk in pointing out the “injustice.” Yet the salary of the executive director of the Payis is almost the same. At least the salary of the physician comes from taxpayers’ money, which is mostly covered by the rich. The salary of the CEO of the Payis comes from the poor. But the media is mostly silent.

The Olympic Games are not very different.

Their coverage in Israel borders on the ridiculous. This Monday, Israel Hayom, Israel’s leading newspaper, ran on its front page the headline “The Night of Hanna,” referring to Hanna Knyazeva-Minenko, who was hopefully going to win an Olympic medal in the women’s triple jump. Let’s make this clear: the paper went to press before the results were known; Knyazeva-Minenko had not even won a medal yet made it onto page one.

It is interesting to compare Israel with its eight-million population to other countries, such as Switzerland, also with 8 million, or Denmark with 6 million. Swiss athletes have thus far collected five medals, two of them gold and two bronze. Danish athletes won three bronze, three silver and one gold. Israel’s performance by comparison is very weak.

Why? Not many countries send their sports ministers to spend a few weeks in Rio to “oversee” the Olympics. Our media, which rushes to criticize the prime minister for expenses incurred in his travels abroad, have in this case, even though they generally abhor Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, kept mum about the unnecessary expense.

Israeli athletes garnered two bronze medals.

They were publicly congratulated by President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Haven’t our politicians overdone this? Why aren’t they brought to task for mixing sports with politics? The IOC clearly failed, Israel’s results are miserable – why doesn’t the media demand its resignation and the infusion of new blood into it? Could it be because the media is afraid of the IOC members who control the advertising budget of the Toto? The TV channels make extra income from their coverage of the Olympic Games, as do other stations all over the world. The world coverage of the games is fueled by advertising income. Are they really so popular, or are they made popular by an industry which has much to gain from the “excitement”? The public has limited knowledge of the rules governing judo, or sailing. If it weren’t for the Olympic aura, these activities would garner very little attention. Consider the Paralympics, where Israel is a world leader.

Games with disabled people, who might have missing limbs and other disfigurements, do not attract huge audiences. In Israel, where too many people have been hurt by war and acts of terrorism, the Paralympics should be much more important than the Olympics.

Yet they are not. The income from advertisement is not sufficient.

These maladies are not limited to Israel.

Money is all too important when it comes to media coverage of any issue. This in itself may be legitimate, but what is wrong is the media’s simultaneous self-aggrandizement as “the conscience of the people.”




August 3, 2016

MEDIA COMMENT: ‘The New York Times’ accuses again

Posted in Uncategorized at 10:18 pm by yisraelmedad

MEDIA COMMENT: ‘The New York Times’ accuses again
All newspapers have agendas. The New York Times certainly does. It supports President Barack Obama and has never made secret its support for the Democratic Party candidates.
The New York Times did it again. It took a nonstarter of a topic and used it to chip at Israel’s democratic image. On July 30, it published an op-ed by Ruth Margalit entitled, “How Benjamin Netanyahu Is Crushing Israel’s Free Press.”

Netanyahu, in Margalit’s glossary of terms, does not “criticize,” he “attacks,” as in his “broader attack… on Israel’s democratic institutions, including the Supreme Court and nongovernmental organizations.” To back this claim she quotes Nahum Barnea, “a pre-eminent Israeli columnist,” but does not inform her readers that Barnea, who began his career in the Labor Party’s now defunct newspaper Davar, is eminently anti-Netanyahu.

She accuses Netanyahu of using his influence to assure that the Walla website will serve his interests. Referring to the appointment of Shlomo Filber as director-general of the Communications Ministry, she notes: “Since the appointment of its new director general, the ministry has ruled on a series of decisions that have been highly advantageous to Bezeq, Israel’s largest telecommunications group. Bezeq also operates Walla News, one of the most popular news sites in the country, and a close associate of Mr. Netanyahu’s, Shaul Elovitch, owns a controlling stake.”

As an example of Netanyahu’s newfound control, she cites the case of journalist Amir Tibon, Walla’s political correspondent, “who wrote an article critical of Mr. Netanyahu’s response to the latest wave of Palestinian violence under the headline ‘Netanyahu’s Promises of Calm Replaced by Cheerleading.’”

Soon after the piece was published, Tibon was told that the Prime Minister’s Office was pressuring editors to remove it from the website. Not only has the article remained in place, Tibon felt free enough to publish on the American Politico website that Netanyahu was “successful [in his] purging of the Israeli national-security establishment.”

Her imagination runs wild, claiming that “In broadcast journalism, Mr. Netanyahu has installed associates in positions of authority where he can, and has cast doubt on the financial future of places he can’t. All three of Israel’s main television news channels – Channel 2, Channel 10 and the Israel Broadcasting Authority – are now in danger of being fragmented, shut down or overhauled, respectively.”

Of course, this is utter nonsense. All three channels daily bash Netanyahu and his government.

The Israel Broadcasting Authority is run by people appointed by former communication minister Gilad Erdan, not Netanyahu, as was the chairperson of the Second TV and Radio Authority, which oversees Channel 2 and Channel 10.

She raises the bogey of “an atmosphere of intimidation” whereas the reality is that several times daily, Israel’s media is free to loudly bash Netanyahu, his policies and his government and even create an atmosphere of presumed criminality without any proof.

When this happened in England, even The Guardian permitted a critique of the new (sub) standard of journalism to appear in its pages on July 12 which read, in part, “it seemed that journalists were no longer required to believe their own stories to be true, nor, apparently, did they need to provide evidence. Instead it was up to the reader – who does not even know the identity of the source – to make up their own mind… Does the truth matter anymore?” Last October in The New Yorker, Margalit decided to play at prophecy, writing, “Netanyahu…may be serious about wanting to maintain the [Temple Mount] status quo, but… it’s a status quo that is inching closer and closer to the extremist camp.” Well, here we are, nine months later, and the status quo is in place. The “extremist camp” – that is, those who want a law that guarantees free access to a holy site to be upheld, similar to demands of the Reform Movement at the Western Wall – are still without any actual accomplishment.

Margalit is no babe in the woods. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, and is a political commentator.

In a recent article in the New Yorker, she “innocently” characterized the extreme left-wing Peace and Security Association as “non-partisan.” As the daughter of Prof.
Avishai Margalit, who himself writes in the very unfavorable-to-Israel New York Review of Books and was a founder of Peace Now, such bias is, perhaps, understandable – but not forgivable. An alumnus of journalism at Columbia should know better.

The record needs be set straight. To borrow a phrase from Ruth Margalit, despite her assault on Netanyahu he remains the democratically chosen leader of democratic Israel and no matter how critical, aggressive and full of chutzpah Margalit and her associates are, their attacks only highlight the latent totalitarian tendency of the Left. The only blatant attack on a free press in recent years was the left-wing legislative campaign to ban the Israel Hayom newspaper through legal subterfuge combined with support from its competitor Yediot Aharonot.

That paper was described by Margalit as “widely believed to promote the views of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.” That is actually true, but it is not a crime. The paper makes no secret that it supports the prime minister. So, incidentally, does the public.

Only recently, statistics have shown again that Israel Hayom is Israel’s most popular newspaper.

All newspapers have agendas. The New York Times certainly does. It supports President Barack Obama and has never made secret its support for the Democratic Party candidates.

Is this an attack on democracy in the USA? Haaretz promotes the views of the Palestinian Authority, is virulently anti-Netanyahu and anti-religious. Yediot Aharonot is left-ofcenter and does not like the prime minister.

Ma’ariv is somewhere in the center. Makor Rishon and Besheva are Israel’s right-wing-oriented papers. This is Israel’s democracy, a bastion of free speech.

Haaretz, by the way, opened its columns to suggestions that the army stage a putsch.

The New York Times hosted Ronen Bergman, editorial board member of anti-Netanyahu Yediot Aharonot, ruled by Arnon Mozes, who wrote that he heard from “high-ranking officers” that “the possibility of a military coup had been raised” when Avigdor Liberman’s appointment as defense minister was announced. Since as far as we know he did not report the “high-ranking officers” to the police, we may assume that yet another “liberal” Israeli journalist views a violent overthrow of a democratically elected government as a desirable outcome.

Such anti-democratic views did not upset Margalit. The fact that Mozes makes sure that his paper follows his ideological line, as does Haaretz’s publisher Amos Shocken, does not risk Israel’s democracy. No, only Israel Hayom owner Sheldon Adelson threatens it.

The opponents of Netanyahu’s ideological outlook, and that of Likud prime ministers before him, have embarked on a dangerous path. For them, and their cheerleaders in the media, his policies aren’t only wrong but anti-democratic and proto-fascist. The more his opponents lose the popular vote in election after election, their voice, like Margalit’s, becomes more shrill, more damaging, more disconnected from the truth, more distanced from the facts and less rational. We would have expected that the New York Times find more serious journalists to criticize Israel.